Team Walkthroughs and Improved Safety
BY KEITH R. BRIGHTMAN/School Administrator, March 2019
The tools of continuous improvement are used in our school district to solve real problems — and that includes the business and finance operations. We strive for solutions that provide a “win, win, win” for all involved.
We recently focused on a problem that we had discovered — the number and severity of our workplace injuries were well above the average Wisconsin school district. The National Council on Compensation Insurance developed a modification rating, better known as a MOD, for use by insurance companies to gauge both past cost of injuries and future chances of risk. To mitigate risk, the insurance companies raise an employer’s worker compensation premiums.
Across all school districts in Wisconsin, the average MOD rating is 1.0. Ours was as high as 1.2 in 2015, meaning we were experiencing claims 20 percent higher than the average district. To put it in school terms, a 1.0 average is a C and a 1.2 a low D.
To address this, our district organized a safety team consisting of staff from different schools, divisions and levels across the district. The team’s goal is to analyze previous and current claim data on an ongoing basis to help understand the root causes of our district’s claims and to identify and lessen potential hazards in the workplace.
The team, which continues to operate, examines claim data for all schools and divisions. The monthly meetings rotate locations for a site-specific focus. Prior to each meeting, site staff are asked: “Where is the next workplace accident going to happen in your school?”
At the meetings, team members conduct a walk-through of the school with the help of a skilled occupational therapist (provided by our liability carrier), insurance consultants and internal staff. We look for anything that could be improved in the interest of workplace/school safety. All identified items are noted on a basic stoplight report, one of our go-to continuous improvement tools, to ensure follow-up. Once addressed, they move from red to green and get reported back to the team at the next visit to that site.
Remedies and renovations are made based on recommendations from team observations and a review of past injuries. The walk-throughs have led to eliminating the stacking of heavy items on high shelves, upgrading carpet runners and providing step ladders for use at all schools. We now consider our process “hard-wired” — meaning it’s just part of what we do routinely.
As a result of this team, every school and division has seen a remarkable drop in both the number of incidents as well as the severity. We now have a sustained reduction in our MOD rating from 1.2 to 0.72 and have reduced our liability insurance premiums from $280,000 to less than $202,000.
Win No. 1: Employees avoid potentially life-changing injuries. Win No. 2: The district’s worker’s compensation premiums are much lower than just a few years ago. Win No. 3: Teachers and staff are able to stay safe and continue their work, which is good for our students.
KEITH BRIGHTMAN is director of finance and operations for the School District of Menomonee Falls in Menomonee, Wis.